As some details of the plans around staging an NHL season beginning in mid-January emerge, a little attention has been paid to the AHL.
As reported on Insider Trading on @SportsCentre, CGY, EDM and VAN plan to leave their AHL teams in for 20-21 season - making additional cross-border call-ups quite difficult.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 9, 2020
Manitoba, Toronto, Laval and Belleville plan to play in AHL’s all- div.
Tentative Feb. 5 AHL start
Atlantic: Bridgeport, Charlotte, Hartford, Providence, Springfield.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 9, 2020
Central: Chicago, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Milwaukee, Rockford, Texas.
Pacific: Bakersfield, Colorado, Henderson, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton, Tucson.
(All proposed, nothing official.)
So, to unpack all of that: none of the Canadian NHL teams who use an AHL affiliate in the USA will move that team, even temporarily. In the understatement of the year, Frank Seravalli calls that a quite difficult problem for calling-up players.
Any decision on waiver rules, claiming rules, extra players and an elasticized salary cap to allow for them is pending, but the AHL is still trying to plan for a February start date to their own season. The casual mention of four to five AHL teams opting out of playing at all seems very optimistic. There are twelve AHL teams that are not owned by their NHL affiliate, and have to rise and fall largely on their own efforts to generate income. Nearly all of that is ticket sales and sponsorships that require fans in the arenas, since the AHL is not widely televised.
In the ECHL, an entire division opted out of play, several other teams chose not to begin the process for the season set to begin this week, and three more teams opted out in recent days. Some of those teams can’t operate because of regional rules, but some might simply not have enough money. The independent AHL teams are in similar straits.
If this AHL season comes off in this form, the Manitoba Moose, Laval Rocket, Belleville Senators and Toronto Marlies will play each other, and no one else for the foreseeable future. The ECHL affiliates of the Marlies, the B-Sens and the Rocket are all dark for the year. The Moose are affiliated with the Jacksonville IceMen who are playing this season, but sending players back and forth will be very difficult for them.
At this time, the Manitoba and Quebec governments have not officially said if they will allow professional hockey to resume. The Toronto and Ottawa teams are exempt, so far, under Ontario’s “lockdown” rules for areas like the city of Toronto who have moved beyond the red level of restricted rules.
One of the major reasons to carry on with a season for these Canadian AHL teams where ticket revenues will be zero and costs will be increased is that players have seen less than 30 games in 2020, and likely would benefit from a season, even one playing the same three opponents over and over again.
One of the major reasons to pack it in until later in 2021 is that all of these proposed hockey seasons will come complete with COVID-19 infections for players and staff and all the dangers that entails to them and their families.
It shouldn’t just be the dollars that decide.